December 5, 2022

Unique Bella romps in L.A. Woman return

Unique Bella and jockey Mike Smith win the L.A. Woman Stakes (G3) on Sunday, October 8, 2017, at Santa Anita Park © BENOIT PHOTO

Don Alberto Stable’s Unique Bella was sent off the 1-5 favorite to score in her return Sunday at Santa Anita Park in the $100,345 L.A. Woman Stakes (G3), and the gray lass did not disappoint when pulling off by 3 1/2 lengths under a Mike Smith hand ride.

The bay daughter of Tapit was making her first start in this spot since March 4 when she captured the Santa Ysabel Stakes (G3) while stretching out to 1 1/16 miles for the first time.

Cutting back to 6 1/2 furlongs for the L.A. Woman, Unique Bella didn’t grab command and open up as she had done in previous starts. Instead, the sophomore miss settled well wide in third as Princess Karen set the pace through fractions of :22.32 and :45.32. Smith allowed Unique Bella to run the race under her own power and she ranged up nearing the turn to challenge.

Unique Bella took over in the lane, but Princess Karen was game, fighting back on the inside. Still Smith didn’t have to go to the whip, instead just niggling the reins at his mount for her to keep going. Unique Bella opened up and pulled clear to stop the teletimer in 1:16.66 over the fast main track.

Unique Bella returned $2.40 for the win, her fifth straight since running second in her debut at Santa Anita last June. Princess Karen held second by three parts of a length over Cuddle Alert, who got her neck in front of Bad Ju Ju to take third. Lunar Empress and Dis Smart Cat completed the order of finish.

A major contender on the Kentucky Oaks (G1) trail earlier this spring, Unique Bella preceded the Santa Ysabel with dominating wins in the Santa Ynez Stakes (G2) and Las Virgenes Stakes (G2). Those races opened her sophomore campaign as the Jerry Hollendorfer trainee broke her maiden on November 26 at Del Mar by 10 lengths to close out 2016.

Unique Bella developed a shin issue after the Santa Ysabel and was sidelined until August, when she returned to the worktab. This return to the winner’s circle improved the Tapit filly’s career record to 6-5-1-0, $402,400.

Bred in Pennsylvania by Brushwood Stable, Unique Bella is out of the Unbridled’s Song mare Unrivaled Belle, who captured the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (G1) over Blind Luck and 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace.


Mike Smith, jockey Unique Bella, winner

“She’s really funny about the gate. She either handles it very well, or not so well. She of kind of rocks back ‘n’ forth and she weaves in there. You try and make her stand still but if you try too hard, she gets a bit aggravated. It’s a very touchy thing to have the gate guys deal with. They do a good job, though.

“What I found interesting today was that she settled really nicely. In the past I don’t think she would have done that. She would have just run on by and opened up by five, six or seven and coasted on home. Today she rated nicely and I had horse left. When I picked her up at the eighth-pole she really got into the bridle. I got after her one time just to run through the wire. The next race is seven-eighths and she needs to be ready.

“Sometimes things happen for a reason. I think she got a whole lot more out of this than if she had broke two in front. I don’t think she would have gotten anything out of that type of race. What are you going to do? Get after her when she’s already six or seven in front? This race set up better for her to get more out of it. I’m thinkin’ that way anyway. I hope it’s true.

“I’ve been so blessed in my career with so many great fillies. Just when you think there won’t be another as good as that one, here comes another one, another one, and so on. Songbird does what she does and then this one pops up. I’m just blessed.”

Jerry Hollendorfer, trainer Unique Bella, winner

“She had a little adversity in the beginning, but Mike (Smith) handles that very well. She slipped a little bit leaving the gate, and then when he asked her to rate a little bit, she had her head up a little, but then she settled right down and got down to business. It looked like he rode her confidently the whole race.

“Definitely (we’re looking at the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint [G1] on November 4 at Del Mar). We’ve talked about that for a long time. We thought if we could get her back to this race and get a good race in her that we could probably do that.”

Fernando Diaz, representative for Unique Bella’s owner Don Alberto Stables

“It’s been a period there to wait, but you have to be patient. We had to skip the Santa Anita Oaks (G1) and then the Kentucky Oaks (G1). Everybody said we had the horse to beat. It was painful, to be honest, but you have to do what’s best for the horse. She’s sound now and the future looks bright. It’s great to have her back.”